Monday, 26 November 2007

Jipango Dinner

Japanese cuisine in a cooking class with a variety of different specialties including a succulent fresh crab "stew"

Friends and family have requested that I branch out on my blog, so I am going to start to add other countries and cuisines to my repertoire.

I love Japan and have travelled there twice. I have been studying Japanese for five years now and although I find it hard to understand when people speak quickly, I can make myself understood. I went to Japan alone last year, and was able to get around and communicate without a problem.

In Paris, I belong to the Jipango Club among other Japanese cultural organizations. I have had many cooking classes with my favorite chef, Bin Muto and have learned the basics of Japanese cuisine. Far beyond sushi and sashimi, there are many different types of cooking to master.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to have attended a class for a seafood banquet. We had king crab and kintara (a type of rich codfish that tastes as velvety as Chilean Sea Bass). For a starter was an angel hair salad with vegetables and seaweed along with jumbo (raw) shrimp sushi. All this was washed down with two different types of wonderful sake.

Bin showed us how to prepare the meal which included making the dashi, a broth that is the base of all Japanese cuisine, Add orange juice and other ingredients like mirin (really a sweet sake) and you have ponzu sauce. If you combine that with mayonnaise, you have a wonderful sauce for your sushi rolls.

The menu did not disappoint. We started with the angel hair salad and the shrimp sashimi. Next were the packets of Chinese cabbage and carrots, tofu, the crab, and the velvety codfish. Once the ingredients are cooked, you spoon out your portion into a small soup bowl which is filled with some ponzu sauce. Mmm Mmm. This is a very convivial meal, which is ideal for six people seated around a table. As you eat your portion, you add more and more of the ingredients, cook them, and eat some more.

I thought that the nabe was the main course but I was wrong. After about three helpings each, we had the codfish (which was rich and delicious) cooked in a teriyaki or sweet soy sauce. Most meals end with rice and miso soup in that order but we were treated to udon (thick chewy noodles) served in more warm dashi in our nabe bowls.

For dessert there were two types of yokan (a jellied rectangular cube) flavored with green tea and with sesame. This was a wonderful meal. The Jipango meals are always very relaxed and fun. It is a great occasion to meet new people who are interested in Japan and Japanese culture.

Through my membership in Jipango I have learned about the authentic and traditional Japanese restaurants in Paris. And I am able to translate this talent into my forays to other places I visit. I have found authentic outposts in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and New York.

Friday, 23 November 2007

My weekend at Barcelona

Moderately priced Barcelona dining including a fantastic outdoor market and a wonderful place for tapas

Barcelona is a wonderful city. Don't miss all the Gaudi offerings: Sagrada Familia (a church like you have never seen before), La Paradera, Casa Battlo, Parc Guell). All are just amazing sights to see. If you rent the guided tour at the houses, you will learn so much about Gaudi and his techniques. And then there is the Picasso Museum and the Fondacion Juan Miro which are not to be missed!

I arrived on Thursday and had dinner at Tragaluz. I really did not enjoy my meal and for what I ate and drank, it was too expensive. But a few days later, I went across the street to El Japonese de Tragaluz and that was a winner. It is a sushi tapas bar. I had a succulent mango salad with salmon; tataki of tuna (seared tuna with a variety of sauces); and a few selected delicious sushis. If you go at 3, expect to wait. This is a popular place but the wait is worth it if you like Japanese food.

Near the Picasso Museum is Nou Cellar. This is a very authentic Catalan restaurant.
Not expensive; not touristy; good honest food. I had grilled squid and pa amb tomaquet--toasted bread rubbed with fresh tomato. The latter is the sine qua non of typical Catalan cuisine and must be tried at least once. Other offerings are the quintessential Spanish omelette--served at room temperature and made with potatoes; and fancy Spanish ham.

Don't miss La Boqueria. It is the beautiful market on Las Ramblas. You have never seen such a marvelous display of fruits and vegetables, hams, fish and seafood!!! It makes you wish you had a kitchen so that you could buy and cook what they have to offer. Perhaps you will be satisfied to take a lot of photos (see postings) and (like me) buy some of the delicious ham that they package for transporting to countries far away.

Among my favorite restaurants was Agut (not to be confused with Agut d'Avignon which might have some French influence). Honest delicious food at moderate prices in a colorful diningroom. I had a delicious monkfish stew as my main course and was very pleased. An entire meal of three courses with wine, water and coffee came to about 40 euros.

I wanted to try a fancy restaurant and braved the taxi ride to the suburbs of Barcelona to Neichel. This is a restaurant that used to have 2 Michelin stars and now has one. However, it is a wonderful place for a fancy tranquil and delicious meal. The chef is an artist and he designed the cards and the menu. With the little I, I had Cava which is a lovely Spanish champagne. My first course was a salad of wild mushrooms with quail and summer truffles--just lovely. My main course was a dish that boasted langoustines, gambas with squid tagliatelle and saffron. I opted for the dessert cart where you can choose from your heart's delight of desserts ranging from ice creams and sorbets to fruit tarts and chocolate cakes. This wonderful meal comes to just over 100 euros and is a lovely way to celebrate your weekend at Barcelona.

Well, you can't go to Barcelona without getting paella and I went to the most famous of all paella places. It is called Seite Puertas and is in Barceloneta right near that metro stop. They ask you if you have a reservation when you enter but they don't take reservations so who argues with that logic? I stood on line for an hour and then was ushered to a very nice table in one of the main diningrooms. The thing to get there is arroz nero--with black ink and squid. However, they were all out so I got the arroz parillada--or poor man's paella with fish. I had squid, mussels, lobster tail and shrimp in a delicious tomato-ey sauce with a half bottle of dry white Rioja. My starter was the quintessential pa amb tomaquet (tomato rubbed toast that I spoke of) and enscalivada which is a dish of roasted red peppers and roasted eggplant in olive oil. This was a fun evening, especially since I met some very lovely Portuguese people as I waited on line. I got there at about 8 but didn't sit down until the civilized hour of 9.

Before I left, I had to go to a pintxo bar. Apparently pintxo are tapas that are served in the South although I think that they are mixtures of delicious foods served on little baguette slices whereas tapas are the plain food like ham or seafood served on a plate. I found Irati just near the metro Liceu on Las Ramblas. There is a fantastic array of pintxo offerings. Each one costs 1,70 euros and is held together with a toothpick. After you have eaten, they count the toothpicks to see what you owe. You choose while you are standing at the bar and can order wine or beer or other beverages to wash down your food. If you like, you can sit in the restaurant in back for more substantial offerings. I had a delicious crab concoction; a baguette with fancy Spanish ham; Spanish omelette layered with crabmeat; codfish in a delicious tomato sauce. Everything was wonderful and memorable. Irati is open everyday from 11am to midnight. The restaurant section has shorter hours--probably opening at 1 or so.

The Spanish people eat much later than we are used to. So lunch is early at 3 and goes on until about 5 and dinner is served at around 9:30-midnight. You can get tapas and pintxos to tide you over for the rest of the day.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Weekend in Annecy

A visit to a beautiful town in France on the border of Switzerland just below the Alp which boasts some excellent French restaurants

I remember spending a lovely springtime in Annecy perhaps 22 years ago. It is such a charming village that I couldn't wait to return. The last time was a gastronomic pilgrimage as I dined in the "temple" of Marc Veyrat (then a 2-star chef) and went to nearby Switzerland to dine in what was called at the time the greatest restaurant in the world: Fredy Girardet. Girardet is long gone, and now Marc Veyrat is considered to be one of the greatest. I hoped to mirror my last trip by doing some serious dining while I was there.

I stayed in the Hotel du Pré Carré which is among the city's best and within walking distance of the train. It was a basic modern hotel with a very friendly staff and a health club with jacuzzi and hot tub. I didn't forget my bathing suit this time.

Au Fidèle Berger is a name I remember from the old days--a lovely salon de thé with wonderful coffees and desserts. For lunch there are tartes salées and individual portions of French pizza (pâte feuilletée for the crust). I went to a different place as I wanted a light salad but had a lovely coffee at the Berger afterwards. I had to control myself and not order one of the gorgeous and tasty desserts as I wanted to save calories for my evening repast. Coffee is only 2 euros and cheap compared to Paris prices.

There is not much sightseeing to be done in Annecy other than to take a boat ride on the beautiful lake that is at the foot of the Alps. Geneva is not far if you are game, but I wanted to stay put and relax. I simply wandered around and worked up an appetite for dinner.

I went to Le Clos des Sens--two stars--in Annecy Le Vieux, which is a part of town about 2 kilometers from Le Vieux Annecy. I taxied over there and was shown to a table which had a stunning view of the main part of the town below. What a shame not to be there during the day as all we could see were the lights of the city--very beautiful but a daylight view would have been more spectacular.

Tartiflette is the dish to have when you are in the Savoie. It is a sinfully rich casserole made of lardons, potatoes, onions and reblochon--the wonderful regional cheese. I will tell you now that I could not bring myself to order that dish in a local brasserie with all the rich dishes I was consuming in the restaurants, but I was lucky to have a tartiflette déstructurée as one of my amuse-bouches. There was onion ice cream, a tiny cone of reblochon flavored with smoked lard (bacon), and a potato chip--heavenly and light. I had this with a glass of Krug which I could not resist. This is the Rolls Royce of champagnes and I was very pleased that it is what the restaurant serves for its coupes de champagne.

Other amuse-bouches were very light: a carpaccio of mushrooms, and a cool tomato bouillon.

This was my menu: Foie gras de canard layered with smoked fish and an apple. This was different and lovely. With it I had a glass of local Chignin 2006 La Maréchale Jacquert (a white wine from the region). The pistou d'oeuf au plat inversé--basically a poached egg with pesto. With this and the next dish, I had one of my favorite wines: a Condrieu De Poncins, Francois Villard 2004. This is a very flavorful, complex and flowery white wine from the center of France. Next was Truite du Lac cooked at a low temperature--simply seasoned with olive oil and just lovely. My main course was Pigeon wrapped in kale (it looked like maki-sushi) with a sauté of assorted wild mushrooms. With this, I had a red Arbin Genoux Cuvée de L'an II 2002. I could not resist the cheese plate. I usually pass this up but with all the wonderful cheeses that come from this area, it was hard to say no. For a pre dessert I had fresh vegetables swimming in a sugar syrup with a thyme ice cream and lemongrass consommé--very refreshing. The dessert I chose was a chocolate dessert of course--flavored with passion fruit. This is a combination I love. There were other mignardises and douceurs. I truly enjoyed my meal but must say that it was a lot to eat. The cost of a complete dinner would be 120 euros without wine and coffee.

At the end of the meal, there were no taxis free to take me back home so the chef de cuisine, M. Laurent Petit, drove me back. We talked Paris restaurants and he knew all the good modern bistrots.

I read that at Marc Veyrat's restaurant which is open but six months per year and for most of the time for only four days per week. The two menus is are 295 and 385 euros per person respectively NOT including wine, coffee and water. So it would be at least 500 euros per person easily. I think that to spend so much on a meal is obscene and was proud to cancel my reservation there. Better to donate to a charitable cause. Of all the 3-star chefs, he is the only one to charge this much--and by at least 200 euros above the others. Is he so great? His menu does not include designer ingredients at all: no truffles or foie gras or langoustines. He is known for the fresh herbs that he cultivates in the fields. No thank you.

I had a fantastic meal at the newly one-starred Le Ciboulette in Annecy instead. The restaurant was two minutes from my hotel. For the amuse-bouches, I was delighted with a large skewer of snail with a potato, another skewer with a chunk of smoked salmon and a delicious tomato cake. Pure heaven. For my appetizer I had large langoustines with tiny pillows filled with pork. The pillows are called and I remember discovering these delights at Marc Meneau's restaurant, L'Esperance. Basically, they are deep fried dumplings filled with something delicious.

For my main course I had the best veal of my life. Côte de veau de Simmenthal grillé, with squid tagliatelles (not pasta but squid ribbons) and a thin sauce of capers garnished with capucines (nasturtium flowers). With this came a martini glass filled with wild mushrooms.

I had a favorite Burgundy wine with my meal: a white Volnay Premier Cru En Caillerets, Domaine de la Pousse d'Or Patriuck Landanger 2004. Heaven.

I opted to skip dessert because I knew there would be delicious mignardises, chocolates and cookies with my coffee. This was was my favorite meal of my stay and came to about 80 euros without wine and dessert.

The next day, I took a bus to Talloires to dine at the Auberge du Père Bise. Many years ago, this restaurant had 3 stars but after Père Bise died, the rating went down. I believe that his daughter oversees the restaurant now and it still has a wonderful reputation. I had heard about it for years from my cooking teachers in Boston. I was excited to go because I knew it would be classic cuisine (delicious food) and a beautiful setting.

The restaurant was wonderful. I had a table that looked out at the lake and the Alps and was very pleased. The amuse-bouche was small and lovely: a custard of tomato with a basil sauce and a caramel of tomato--tomato reduced so that it gets sugary and caramel-y. I had this with a glass of Deutz champagne. A wonderful beginning.

Often, I opt for two 1/2 portions for my appetizers so that I can taste more of the restaurant's offerings. Here, I had a small portion of sautéed foie gras with white beans, chanterelles and a smokey jus flavored with bacon. With this I had a sweet wine: Jurançon Moelleux Clos Gassiol 2006--wonderful wine-food marriage and delicious. Then I had a 1/2 portion of the signature Ecrevisse en Gratin (in an Armorican sauce with tomato and cream). I was served a tiny casserole dish chock full of the succulent écrevisses--crawfish. This was terrrific and went well with the wine I chose for my next courses: a red Madiran Tonus of Alain Brumont 2003. My main course was Venison with a turnip mousse, carrots, chestnuts, cèpes, and Brussels sprouts: a perfect fall dish.

I usually pass on the cheese course but not in this region. And I had some of my red wine to consume, so I did spring for the cheeses and chose those from the area: Beaufort d'Alpage (along with camembert my favorite cheese), Tomme des Vosges, and Reblochon of course. This came with an assortment of home made breads from which I chose a pain de campagne.

For a lovely close to the meal, there were lots of mignardises with coffee as well as two dessert chariots. The first had choices of sorbets, ice creams and their sauces. And the second cart was devoted to cakes and tarts. I had the restaurant's specialty: the Marjolaine--a cake layered with different butter creams in between crunchy nougats and cakes. It is very difficult to make but easy to eat!! It is superb. There were also other chocolate cakes and fruit tarts and everything looked and tasted lovely.

This was the most expensive meal of my stay and came to about 150 euros without the wines. It was a truly memorable experience.

My favorite inexpensive restaurant was La Coupole where I had a delicious salad of jumbo shrimps and scallops. The seafood had been grilled and the salad was flavorfully seasoned. The bread was excellent. All this for 15 euros. It is one of the restaurants at the end of the canal and on Sundays part of the extensive market is parked out in front.

I promised myself that I would go to Annecy again next summer for a few days of sun and swimming. There are many low-cost restaurants to try and I must save room for that tartiflette!!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Paris restaurants

More Paris favorites, including two fish restaurants, a fusion place and several neighborhood places where only French people go

My friend Eric and I like to go to restaurants together. I usually do the research as I have a zillion restaurant guide books, but always pass the ideas by Eric before we choose.

Just as Paris closed for the August vacation, we dined at Fish La Boissonerie. This is the brain child of a Brit who created Cosi (one in Paris all over NY--the concept was purchased and franchised). Cosi is a great sandwich place where they make delicious bread in a wood burning oven. You create your own sandwich with a number of interesting and tasty vegetable and cheese mixtures or else excellent meats and enjoy. The shop is tiny with two floors. The music from great operas is piped in throughout the day.

Fish La Boissonerie is across the street on the rue de Seine (number 69). It is a wine bar where the wine is sold at market price. But of course, the menu is long on fish. The atmosphere is very animated and lots of fun and there are always people seated at the bar and at the tables. Everyone who waits on you speaks English and French. This is what we had for dinner: risotto au safran, aux crevettes roses et au marscapone, salade de mozzarella di buffala, fenouil et amandes, vinaigrette à la menthe et citron (a big pile of assorted lettuces atop the mozzarella); saumon cuit au four, salade de concombre, sauce tomate (served on a large mound of salad to Eric's delight); filet de sandre (a river fish) poelée, petits legumes, bouillon de romarin (a lovely dish). For dessert there was pannacotta au thym with a mango sorbet and fresh raspberries as a garniture, and an crème brulée à l'orange.. We ordered a bottle of VdP Val de Montferrand which was a blend of chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon grapes. The meal came to 40-50 euros per person and was well worth it.

One of my favorite I places is a little hole in the wall called Les Cakes de Bertrand.
The decor is very feminine and there are interesting gifts to buy all around the room. The tartes salées (actually, quiche only refers to the quiche lorraine. Other savory tarts are called tartes salées) are all delicious and there are also savory cakes like cake with chicken; cake with sundried tomatoes and olives; mushroom cake. The salads that come with the tartes and cakes are very inventive and the desserts are all homey and good. Les Cakes de Bertrand is at the exit of the Metro Notre Dame de Lorette in the 9th arrondissement. Unfortunately the restaurant has closed since this posting. You can now get the same menu at their little cafe in the garden of the Musée de la Vie Romantique from mid-April to mid-October.

Another delicious salon de thé is Le Loir dans la Théière (The Dormouse in the Teapot). It is open everyday of the week. They also have many delicious salads and tartes salées as well as hot dishes. The club sandwich is addictive and the omelettes are all very well prepared and not overcooked. The desserts are luscious and not fancy. They have a huge lemon meringue pie that serves four easily. They are mobbed for Sunday brunch. Le Loir dans la Théière is on the rue des Rosiers near the Rue Malar in the Marais.

The Petit Troquet is a find. It is on rue de l'Exposition in the 7th arrondissement. I went there with my friend Sophie and had a lovely time. Poêlée de girolles et pleurotes (wild mushrooms in season in the fall) and risotto cremeux aux escargots de Bourgogne were our appetizers? Although I loved my dish of mushrooms, I adored Sophie's meaty escargots and vowed to order that another time. For our main courses we chose dos de bar sauvage with an émulsion d'herbes fraîches and a filet de canard aux girolles. Sophie and I decided on a mushroom menu and that is why there were so many mushroom choices in our menu. Desserts were a clafoutis aux abricots and a tarte chocolat-caramel. We drank a 2005 Brouilly Domaine Cretes des Garanches. Brouilly is a very basic red wine; often served chilled and easy to swallow. It is good with meat, but goes well with a flavorful fish.

On another evening, Eric and I went to a restaurant in my neighborhood. In one area in the 11th arrondissement there are a number of terrific modern bistrots. Some of them are the Bistrot du Paul Bert; L'Ecailler du Bistrot and Le Temps au Temps. Both the Bistrot and the Ecailler are owned by the same man and are next door to each other. L'Ecailler is a fish restaurant--highly recommended for the freshest of fish and oysters from Brittany, These three restaurants are on the rue du Paul Bert next to metro Faidherbe Chaligny. Just across the street on rue Dahomey is Au Vieux Chêne. At all of these restaurants you can eat for 40-45 euros without a problem.

Eric and I chose Au Vieux Chêne for this outing. It is great. There is a menu for 29 euros (three courses) for which there are several choices; and you can also order à la carte. Eric and I decided to skip the appetizers and head for a thick juicy steak served with gratin dauphinois (heavenly and rich: potatoes and cream slowly baked until the potatoes melt into the cream) and a salad. The owner recommended a red wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon and only had us pay for what we drank (he knew me from past visits). The staff is very laid back and friendly and the chef takes great pride in his work. For dessert I had a petit sablé aux frambroises with a framboise sorbet (raspberries) and Eric had fraises des bois à la creme d'amandes with rhubarbe, served with a marscapone ice cream. We went in the summer when the berries are at their peak.

Several years ago, I took my family to Au Bon Accueil on the rue Montessuy in the 7th. They have a 30 euro three-course menu or an à la carte menu. We blew the staff away when I told them that 4 of us are allergic to (detest) cilantro. That can be a problem in these inventive French restaurants as the chefs enjoy spicing up their foods with Asian and Indian herbs and spices. I do remember a wonderful veal chop and a lovely sautéed calves liver. The fish that they serve is fine as well. Appetizers are interesting salads or terrines, and the desserts are lovely to look at and delicious to taste. If you are lucky enough to sit outside in the summer, you will see the Eiffel Tower shimmering in the distance for ten minutes at the top of each hour. Otherwise, you can leave your table inside to admire the view. This is an excellent address (as they say in France when referring to a good restaurant.)

Friends from L.A. were here last Monday, and I took them to Ze Kitchen Galerie. I don't eat cilantro and every dish has it, but they assured me that they can leave it out. There were three of us and we had wonderful dishes. The cuisine is fusion style with a French/Asian twist. Joel and I had a lovely seafood bouillion with lobster meat served with luscious chicken croquettes. It sounds strange but it was wonderful. Rusty had a Chinese dumpling soup with many different herbes and vegetables (which I didn't dare taste because it was full of cilantro). For our main courses, we had solettes with artichokes, mushrooms, coconut and lemon grass; (lovely white filets of sole atop mounds of the vegetables and coconut) and roast duck with a variety of fruit sauces. Desserts were wonderful: a cold chocolate-hazelnut cappuccino with a peanut emulsion and coconut ice cream, and a wonderful warm mirabelle cake with apple sorbet sitting on crushed almonds. We shared a bottle of a white wine whose producer I had heard of when I was visiting the Languedoc-Roussillon--a fruity 2005 Vin de Pays (country wine) des Côtes Catalanes, Domaine Gauby. The wine stood up to our very flavorful food and was delightful. This restaurant is extremely branché (trendy) and the food is excellent. The decor is quite modern and very appealing. The chef used to be the right-hand man to Guy Savoy and ran his bistrots early on. About 5-6 years ago he opened this place and it has been extremely well received.


Some restaurants in Bordeaux as well as some of the top wineries in the area; a visit to the stellar two-star Chateau de Cordeillan-Bages where Thierry Marx works his magic

I have been remiss in keeping up to date with this blog and have many things to report. I went to Bordeaux at the end of August and had some delicious wines and meals in several places. I always thought that I preferred the Burgundy wines, as they tend to be smoother than the Bordeaux and not tannic. However, if you age a Bordeaux appropriately or choose carefully, you can find many that are easily swallowed and not tannic at all.

I took the train to Bordeaux from Paris and then rented a car and drove to St. Emilion. It is a very pretty town but totally for tourists. It is medieval and has a beautiful stone church. I stayed in the Logis des Remparts--a small hotel with a lovely pool and a beautiful garden for relaxing, reading, soaking up the sun. The first day was very hot so the pool was in order. I didn't think to bring my suit and there was no store that sold them (actually only two clothing shops and no supermarkets in this little town). Rather than hike to the next big town in my car, I just cut my shorts and wore a tank top and that was fine.

The first evening I dined at the Hostellerie de Plaisance which has 21 rooms and is definitely the fancier place to stay. They do not have a pool however. The restaurant has one Michelin star. I had a simply delicious meal--rather classic cuisine with inventive touches. I prefer that to the really far out things many of the big name chefs are doing. After the several amuse-bouches which I gobbled up (royale de foie gras with an asparagus foam (not really a foam but more like a light sauce), a toast with fancy Spanish ham, parmesan and tomato, a maki of lobster without rice, a quenelle of goat cheese, etc.) I opened the meal with a lasagna de foie gras de canard, wild mushrooms and a black truffle emulsion. This was spectacular and there were enough truffles (preserved from the precedent season) so as to be able to taste all the flavors. My main course was small pieces of pink lamb provençale--with eggplant and zucchini. The lamb was rolled around the mixture of vegetables. That came with pommes soufflées (the Cadillac of potato chips), green asparagus and other baby vegetables each lovingly prepared.

The pre-dessert was a basil jello served with a compote of apricots and a sauce flavored with fennel. That came with an apricot sorbet and was light and lovely. For dessert I chose La Pêche--peach served in a variety of ways: in a melba, as a garniture for a baba au rhum, in a mousse and as a sorbet. They also had a chariot of mignardises--so that you could choose from a panoply of beautiful tasty macaroons, canneles (the typical Bordelais cake), cookies and chocolates.

As I tend to dine alone, the sommelier suggested that I order wines by the glass--or as I prefer: the sommelier chooses my wines for me. I know a lot about wine but the sommelier in a restaurant knows the dishes that are served and can choose the wines that marry best with those dishes. I had a lovely Alsatian Pinot Gris with the foie gras (which commands a sweet wine), and a glass of a St Emilion Grand Cru classé with my lamb (Château Franc Maine 2001). The Bordeaux wine was a pleasant surprise. As I mentioned (and as I requested of the sommelier) I prefer a wine that is not tannic.

The breakfast at my hotel was acceptable, but the weather was not. It poured the entire day--such a contrast from the hot sunny day before. No pool this time. I did do a little sightseeing and went on a visit of nearby vineyards. For dinner, I went to a bistrot which I loved. It is called L'Envers du Décor. I had a typical Bordelais meal. My appetizer was a delicious sauté of calamari in their ink garnished with red peppers. For my main course, I chose the roast free-range chicken. Sometimes a simple dish like that just hits the spot and this one was sensational. I had a wonderful crème brulée for dessert and was very happy. With the meal, I ordered another St. Emilion (Château Bel-Air St. Georges). Of course, this meal came to much less than the first one and it was delicious in its own simple way.

The main reason for my trip to this area was to dine at the restaurant of Thierry Marx--two Michelin stars--an inventive chef who is bound for a third star before too long (my prediction). His restaurant is in Pauillac--another home of excellent Bordeaux wines. Although I was told that it would take me 45 minutes to get there from St. Emilion, it actually took almost two hours. I had a morning appointment at the Château de Beychevelle and arrived exactly at 10:30 am to meet my group. We had a nice tour of the Château and of the caves. Later that day, I went to Mouton Rothschild where I paid 25 euros for a tour and a tasting. This was spectacular. There is also an art museum with the collection of the Mouton-Rothschild family and a short visit of that museum is included in the tour. Afterwards, we were able to taste three wines--three examples of the different types of wine that this Château produces. Of course, the most sought after and the most expensive is the Mouton Rothschild itself. Each year, the label is designed by a different fine artist and so there are labels by Braque, Picasso, Chagall, etc. The Mouton Rothschild 2006 (too young to serve) was spectacular. The tour guide told us that it retails for 800 euros per bottle!! A bit pricey for me, I happily purchased wines in the 30 euro price range--the Clerc Millon for one and the Château d'Armailhac for another. Mouton Rothschild puts out Mouton Cadet--one of its most well known wines, and that one is not bad at all and quite inexpensive. It is ubiquitous in the states. The tour with the tasting was well worth the 25 euro price. If you are interested, you must call in advance to reserve but it is not difficult to get a place.

The next day, I left for the Château de Cordeillan-Bages which is the Relais Château hotel run by Thierry Marx. I love to treat myself to such luxury. I had reserved a standard room and that was quite fancy for me: with a beautiful view of the chateau and the vineyards. I dressed up for lunch and was ushered in to the modern and minimalist diningroom. The menu is organized by dishes and you can order two or three. During your meal, you will also be served bite-sized portions of some of the signature dishes you didn't order. The menu comes with cheese and your choice of dessert. The experience lasted four hours and was truly memorable. Although I am moving away from the ultra modern inventive cuisines, Chef Marx's creativity makes for delicious and fun dishes. Some high points were the bread wagon and the chariot de mignardises. I will talk about that at the end of my description of the meal.

Some examples of the amuse-bouches: orange flavored clam, a cube of cauliflower with passion fruit, potato and spicy chili from the Basque country, a little vegetable soup flavored with curry. I started with a hot soufflé that he says has not been cooked, housing an oyster with a cauliflower-foie gras sauce. This is very rich and very delicious. Everything works even if it sounds crazy.

My second course was a lobster dish with verbena, lemongrass, and lemon rind--superb. As I mentioned, in the course of your meal, you are served snacks that are examples of other signature dishes. One of these was a succulent dish made of crabmeat, lime and almonds. Another "signature snack" I was given to taste was a risotto with shallots and oysters. Mmmm.

My main dish was his famous spaghetti, cèpes and truffes with is filled with ris de veau. The spaghetti is made into a cap shape and served upside down. When you break into the "cap", you discover the various and sundry delicacies. This is truly a wonderful dish.

This time, I asked the sommelier to help me choose a 1/2 bottle of wine--not too expensive but delicious. So with my meal, I had a 2000 Château Prieuré-Lichine Margaux--my first Margaux. It was perhaps too young to drink, but after resting and aerating in the carafe it did fine and stood up to the entire meal very well.

After tasting a variety of cheeses and some of the delicious breads served to me from the butcher block rolling cart of breads and butters, I chose the destructed lemon tart for dessert. This was a wonderful lemon tart served in various sections: lemon curd and pâte sablé as one component, lemon sorbet and soft meringue with lemon cream as the other components. The whole dish is served together and all the components make up one lemon tart (with sorbet) Along with the fruits and sorbets that came with dessert in general (crystallized eggplant for an example of something wild), there was a beautiful chariot of chocolate cakes and cookies that you could choose from to go with your coffee.

With dessert, I had a lovely glass of Doisy Daêne Sauternes 1997.

The meal was spectacular--and a challenge to explain. There was a lot of food, as you can see, but it was not sickening as portions are very small and most things are quite light.

After a meal like this, there was only one thing to do--rest up in my room, take a walk and then a swim. I slept well that night!

Breakfast was lovely--a variety of cakes and viennoiseries, fresh fruits, yogurts and fromage blanc, hard cheeses, hams and scrambled eggs, freshly squeezed juices and coffees. There is a bakery up the street that sells M. Marx's breads, viennoiseries and cakes.

And so back to Paris, with a full stomach and wonderful gastronomic memories.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Visitors in Paris and where to go

Some of my favorite restaurants in Paris and one fantastic store for chocolate cakes.

Despite the high cost of the euro, more and more friends and family are coming to Paris. With that comes the delightful challenge of finding restaurants to take them to. One of my favorite places is Les Bouquinistes on Quai des Grands Augustins near Place St Michel and Notre Dame. It is one of the fashionable bistrots of three-star chef, Guy Savoy. On weekends, the attractive male staff members wear ties designed with Disney cartoons--Tweety Bird, Mickey Mouse, etc. During the week, the ties are a bit less flashy. Either way, the food is superb and the wine list has many interesting choices at every price range. I went with a group of 8 and we ordered many different things so that we all had an excellent sampling of the restaurant's repertoire--and it was impressive. Don't miss the combination plate of dessert for two--enough for four small dessert eaters. Despite an annoying trend to add foam to everything (which doesn't add much) the food is very good. Keep on the lookout for langoustines or fresh crab; baby lamb or steak.

In the 7th arrondissement is la rue St Dominique where reknowned chef Christian Constant has three restaurants--for all tastes and pocketbook sizes. His main restaurant(creative cuisine), Le Violon d'Ingres has recently lowered its prices and that is good news for his fans. The name comes from the fact that Ingres' great passion was the violin and the phrase actually means "my hobby, my passion" in French. For smaller budgets, the Cafe Constant is the most informal of the three and serves classic bistrot fare with a concentration of meat dishes although there are some lighter choices. Les Fables de la Fontaine is a very creative fish restaurant which recently got the coveted star in the Guide Michelin. This is the place for inventive seafood dishes at reasonable prices. One thing I don't understand about Constant is his penchant for croutons. He garnishes so many of his dishes with those tiny toast cubes. I could think of other, more interesting ways to add crunch to the texture.

At 37 rue d'Assas in the 6th district is the home of another Christian Constant--same name, different person. This is a chocolate shop with wonderful cakes and chocolate candies and bars. This man is very proud of his product and everything is of top quality. But it is definitely dark chocolate not for the faint of heart. Next door to the shop is a tiny restaurant where you can have hot chocolate (killer: thick, dark, and rich), ice creams or cakes. At lunch time there is an array of savory dishes that are excellent.

My absolute favorite chocolate cake place is that of Jean Paul Hevin. From your first look at his cakes you know you are in heavenly territory. On the fashionable rue St Honoré, he has a salon de thé where you can order a dietetic salad (or quiche or omelette) for lunch. But of course, the goal is to savor one of those delectable chocolate cakes. So why not go for tea and skip the savory course?? Of all the fancy cake shops I know of, Hevin's prices are the most reasonable. (Included in my picture on this blog is an example of my favorite of his cakes: La Marquise.) If you are not on rue St Honoré, you can also find his shop on rue Vavin near the I or on av de la Motte Piquet.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The roots of foodiness

I have been interested in fine food from a very young age. My mother, a doctor, had very little time for me at home because of the demands of her busy practice. However, she did take me to her cooking classes and I remember helping her create penguins from hard-boiled eggs and olive slices when I was five years old. Weekends were often spent making delicious cakes from a variety of wonderful American cookbooks. We never liked really true "American food" and most of the dishes we made were French-style. In a word, we bonded over our cooking activities.

For my tenth birthday party, I ordered a luncheon for my 12 best friends that consisted of artichokes, tenderloin of beef and chocolate soufflé for dessert. How I loved that soufflé and how well my mother made it! My girlfriends were used to hotdogs and ice cream at birthday parties and so I don't know what they made of our menu. But I was very happy.

Several times a year, my parents and I went to fancy restaurants in NYC to celebrate family events--especially birthdays. I always asked to keep a menu for a souvenir. Fast forward to 2007 when I have donated a collection of 1,300 menus to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. I don't have examples of the very early editions to my collection but the current collection dates from about 1980. Prices have certainly skyrocketed since those days!